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Remembering Parag: Assam’s Way
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
Parag Kumar Das was the former editor of Asomiya Pratidin, a radical journalist, human rights activist and one of the founders of the human rights movement in Assam. He was assassinated by four SULFA members on May 17, 1996.

"I wait for the day, May 17, every year with pain and expectations. The pain of losing my son and waiting for justice for years but I still hope, against hope, that one day our family and all well wishers will get the news that the killers of Parag Kumar Das have been convicted and punished," a thin old lady laments while remembering her son.

The story of this woman, Aupama Das, and her brave son Parag who campaigned for journalists' rights up to his death in 1996, is known to every one in Assam, a troubled state of Northeast India, and has been covered by local media for decades.

Every year, while the media, civil society and advocacy groups of the region remember Parag on May 17, his mother makes a brief statement expressing her never-ending sorrow and grief. The authorities, investigative agencies and the judiciary of India have to date failed to capture those responsible for Parag's death in Guwahati in 1996. The journalist was attacked in broad daylight while heading for his residence with his son.

Every year, friends, family, human rights activists and media gather in the Rajgarh locality of the city, where Parag was brutally killed, to remember the courageous journalist and outspoken human rights activist. Organized by Manab Adhikar Sangram Samity, this year's gathering was attended by a host of rights activists, media persons and conscious citizens.

Speakers included Dr. DP Barooah, Pradip Gogoi, Ajit Bhuyan, Lachit Bordoloi, Mukul Mahanta, Bijan Mahajan, Prakash Mahanta, Manoj Barua, Khanin Das, Surya Das, Mahendra Hazarika, Bubumoni Goswami, Aditya Lahkar, and others. They remembered Parag, his immense contributions to Assam media and selfless sacrifice for the Assamese community.

Parag was executive editor of the "Asomiya Pratidin," a largely circulated Assamese daily newspaper from Guwahati. He became renowned for a series of articles criticizing the Union Indian government for its ‘undemocratic and exploiting’ attitude towards Assam and the Northeast.

Parag was shot dead by four militants on May 17, 1996. The militants surrendered themselves, but Parag's assassination prompted a huge public outcry against authorities. Parag's murder and its aftermath have remained in the mainstream media for many years.

A former manager of the Guwahati Stock Exchange, Parag also lead M.A.S.S., a human rights organization. He continued a frontal attack against New Delhi for its brutality against indigenous people of the region through various anti-insurgency operations, against the United Liberation Front of Assam and other armed groups.

Initially the case was investigated by the State investigative agency, but was later handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation following growing demands from various civil society and advocacy groups.

The investigative agency submitted its charge sheet in the Kamrup District and Sessions Court, Guwahati against the four men accused of Parag's murder. Incidentally, all suspects were former members of ULFA. The CBI filed its charge sheet in 2001, but two of the accused (Diganta Baruah and Tapan Dutta) had died in the 1996 encounter. Another suspect, Nayan Das, lost his life in 2003 at the hands of a mob.

The lone surviving, and prime suspect in the case, Mridul Phukan, was given an acquittal by the Kamrup district and sessions judge on July 28, 2009 on the grounds of lack of solid evidence. The court however pulled up the investigative agency for its incompetent investigation of the case.

The acquittal of Mridul Phukan because of the CBI’s inefficiency created enormous public resentments against the CBI and once again the issue drew extraordinary media attention. A general strike (Bandh) in Assam was also called on July 30 against the investigative agency, where some State based journalist organizations actively joined in it.

Even the International Federation of Journalists also came out with dismay over the acquittal of Mridul Phukan. In an official statement, the IFJ Asia-Pacific director Jacqueline Park said, “We are deeply saddened that despite the lapse of so many years, justice has not been done for the slain editor.”

The CBI was understood to appeal in the higher court against the lower court verdict as a regular practice. But the investigating agency remained reluctant to initiate for the fresh appeal. Frustrated with the development, the next of kin of Parag knocked the door of Gauhati High Court seeking justice. The higher court admitted a revision petition challenging the verdict of the Kamrup district and sessions court responding to a letter of Prof Deba Prasad Barooah, where the former VC of Gauhati University alleged that the CBI did not investigate the case properly. The family members of Parag also moved the higher court against the verdict.

Meanwhile, the journalists’ organizations renewed their appeal to the people to hand over to the family of Parag any conclusive or useful proofs that could strengthen the case against the accused in the higher court. They also urge for a special investigation team, keeping in view the loopholes left by the CBI in its charge-sheet, which should be constituted and monitored by the higher court to go into the case and trace the culprit.

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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a Special Correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at






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